State Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, is again shining a light on something that needs a closer look.
He hopes to pass legislation to strengthen protections for victims of abuse by updating Missouri’s stalking law to include the latest technology used by perpetrators. His bill would broaden the definition of “stalking” to cover things such as the use of cellphones, GPS devices, cameras or third parties to observe, threaten or communicate about or to someone.
This law update is needed because perpetrators in the 21st century aren’t necessarily the shadowy figures secretly trailing victims from a few steps away. They have moved toward more tech-savvy ways to stalk their victims. Consider these real-life examples from news headlines in the past year:
• A Maryland man pleaded guilty to cyberstalking after he tampered with his ex-girlfriend’s email and social media accounts, including changing her Instagram handle to a sexist slur.
• A Minnesota State Patrol trooper was charged with felony stalking for allegedly taking a woman’s cellphone, opening it and sending her private photos to his own phone.
• A Wyoming man was charged with felony stalking after allegedly placing a GPS tracker on the vehicle of a woman with whom he had once been romantically involved.
• Several former eBay executives and employees faced federal conspiracy charges of stalking the staff of an e-commerce newsletter by, among other things, trying to place a GPS tracker on a vehicle belonging to the couple who owned the newsletter.
• A Louisiana man was charged with stalking an ex-girlfriend after he allegedly hid a video camera in her bedroom and shared intimate images from that camera with another person.
Need more examples? Unfortunately, we could go on and on.
The effects that such actions have on victims — statistically, a woman being stalked by a man — can be damaging and lifelong.
“The victims of these crimes are real people, and it has real consequences to them,” Roberts recently told us.
Research published by the National Institutes of Mental Health showed that stalking campaigns leave victims with both physical consequences such as weight change, stomach trouble, sleep disorder, headache, weakness, nausea and panic attacks as well as emotive consequences such as suicidal thoughts, sadness, apprehension, anger, fear, lack of confidence, aggressiveness, paranoia, confusion, irritation and agoraphobia. Female victims of stalking reported suffering from one to four different physical consequences and one to three different emotive consequences.
Thanks to Rep. Roberts for prompting lawmakers to take a long, hard look at current protections for victims. It’s time that Missouri’s stalking laws catch up to reality and better protect those who need it most.